Searching For John Kerry
Now that John Kerry has all but sewn up the democratic nomination, Tufts experts discuss the Massachusetts senator’s next move:defining himself to American voters. Washington, D.C.
Boston [03.04.04] He was an underdog in December, an unexpected winner in Iowa and New Hampshire in January, and the victor of most state democratic primaries in March. But, with an undistinguished voting record in the U.S. Senate and only recent presence in the national media, many voters may still be wondering: Who is John Kerry? In the next phase of his campaign, the Democratic choice for president must answer this question to stand a chance against George W. Bush, say Tufts experts.
"[Kerry] has one primary goal: to define himself to the American people before the Republicans do it for him. They've started," Tufts political science professor Jeffrey Berry - an expert on Massachusetts politics and John Kerry - told the Los Angeles Times.
Controlling Kerry's image, says Tufts' Kent Portney, is especially critical since he faces a sitting president that has more resources than any presidential candidate in history.
"The Bush administration is going to start expending some money to paint an image of Kerry," Portney - a professor in Tufts' political science department - told the Sun Statehouse Bureau. "The standard wisdom is the earlier someone can go in and define him, the more effective it will be. If Bush is defining him, it gives [the president a] major advantage."
Although he is a familiar face in the Northeast, Kerry still doesn't enjoy strong name recognition or support in the rest of the country. "To the degree that Americans know the Massachusetts senator, it is probably as John Kerry, Vietnam War hero," Berry told the LA Times. "Although that's not bad, it's not enough."
"[Kerry] wants to sell himself as thoughtful, cerebral, decisive leader," Berry added.
While Kerry's lack of definition may be problematic now, he may be able to use his background to his advantage. According to Berry, Kerry may turn to his experience as a veteran lawmaker to paint himself as the natural alternative to George W. Bush.
"I think Kerry's comparative advantage over President Bush is that he can portray himself as experienced, battle-tested and highly intelligent, contrasting with an impulsive president who headed all too quickly off to war in Iraq," Berry told the LA Times.
But self-definition isn't the only hurdle Kerry must overcome. According to Kent Portney, Kerry also has to think about his long-term electoral strategy and - most visibly - a running mate.
"He's got to decide state by state where he wants to put his resources because obviously he won't have the kind of resources the president has," Portney told the Sun Statehouse Bureau. "A lot of that leads up to who he wants to choose as his running mate."
Although Kerry publicly stated that he "won't throw names around," Sen. John Edwards and Tufts graduate Bill Richardson are rumored to be among the Democrats under consideration to fill the position. "New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson could create excitement as the first Hispanic on a major party ticket," reported the New York Times.
But whatever strategy Kerry has been using, it seems to be working. Few would have predicted that a junior senator with a relatively unknown record would go on to lead the Democratic Party in 2004.
"John Kerry is one of the most interesting political figures in Massachusetts. He's never been wildly popular inside the political establishment," Tufts lecturer and political consultant Michael Goldman told the Boston Globe. "The only people who seem to like John Kerry are the voters."